Wetland Singing Insects Update

by Carl Strang

For years, now, my biggest conservation concern among the singing insects has been in the wetlands. Though our historically abundant prairies in the Chicago region were diminished nearly to nothing by 19th– and 20th-century agriculture, preservation and restoration projects across the region have halted and, to a small degree, reversed that trend. The same could be said for savannas, and our forests did not suffer as much.

Wetlands, like prairies, declined thanks to agriculture, but a new challenge continues to threaten their integrity: invasive wetland plants. Four of these are especially problematic: common reed (Phragmites australis), reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea), hybrid cattails (Typha x glauca), and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). These plants, released from consumers and competitors, have displaced the diverse native species in a large and increasing portion of our wetland acreage. The loss of native wetland grasses, especially, appears to account for the difficulty I am experiencing in finding wetland katydids.

Reed canary grass

Two species that were here historically, I have not found at all: the delicate meadow katydid (Orchelimum delicatum), and the slender conehead (Neoconocephalus lyristes). In the past these were known to occur in four and three, respectively, of the Chicago region’s 22 counties, and I am nearly out of places to check where they might still live. The stripe-faced meadow katydid (O. concinnum), once found in 8 of the counties, appears to be down to a single population at Illinois Beach State Park.

Stripe-faced meadow katydid

Two wetland katydids are doing well. Gladiator meadow katydids (O. gladiator) and black-legged meadow katydids (O. nigripes) are tolerant of the invasive plants, and remain common in every county.

That leaves an in-between category of wetland singing insects that apparently are limited to invasives-free wetlands, and are managing to hang on in a few to several sites. Northern mole crickets (Neocurtilla hexadactyla) occur in wet prairies as well as marshes. In 2017 I added records for two more sites, one of which represented an additional county record. To date I have found them in 10 counties, and remain optimistic that I can add more populations to the inventory.

Dusky-faced meadow katydids (O. campestre) historically were ubiquitous in our marshes. To date I have found them only in marshes with minimal impact by the invasive plants. These katydids seem able to persist in relatively small wetland areas, however, and each year I have been able to add new populations to my list. In 2017 I found them in the Indiana Kankakee Sands preserve, adding Newton County to the record, and in the Tefft Savanna preserve in Jasper County, also a county record. That brings to seven the number of counties where I have found the species, but there are seven more where it once lived, but where my search has been unsuccessful. Dusky-faced meadow katydids also proved this year to be abundant in the panne wetlands at West Beach in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. That was a good find, but I had hoped for delicate meadow katydids there.

Female dusky-faced meadow katydid, Tefft Savanna

Finally, this year I added a third population and county for the nimble meadow katydid (O. volantum). They were singing from arrowheads (Sagittaria sp.) mixed with cattails along Grant Creek in the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. That find was made from a kayak, and that is the vehicle from which further searching for the species will need to happen, as this species likes plants growing in relatively deep water. Some places which historically held nimble meadow katydids no longer have them, but several other sites remain for me to check in future years.

Advertisements

Why the Green Face?

by Carl Strang

This has been a good year for finding additional populations of dusky-faced meadow katydids, a wetland species that has caused me some concern. Once regarded as a ubiquitous marsh insect, they have proven hard to find. In the Chicago region they occur only in remnant marshes and wet prairies with significant amounts of native grasses (though Lisa Rainsong recently reported an Ohio population living in arrowheads), and little or no invasive wetland vegetation. They apparently don’t care for sedges. Such places have become few and far between. So far I have found no evidence of dispersal into restored wetlands.

Dusky-faced meadow katydid, from a newly discovered population at Houghton Lake, a Nature Conservancy site in Marshall County, Indiana.

Dusky-faced meadow katydid, from a newly discovered population at Houghton Lake, a Nature Conservancy site in Marshall County, Indiana.

That said, I have been pleased to find several more populations hanging on in the region. In addition to Houghton Lake, I have found them in two locations in Lake County, Indiana, and have found that they occupy a much larger area at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie than I realized.

For a time I thought I also had re-found delicate meadow katydids at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Back in 2012 I got a fuzzy photo of what I thought was that species:

She was gone before I could get anything clearer. The grass-green face seemed to point to delicate meadow katydid.

She was gone before I could get anything clearer. The grass-green face seemed to point to delicate meadow katydid.

When Lisa, Wendy, Wil and I returned to that site in August, we found more green-faced individuals. I also started seeing them elsewhere.

I labeled this photo as a delicate meadow katydid; the green face seemed unambiguous.

I labeled this photo as a delicate meadow katydid; the green face seemed unambiguous.

There were problems, however.

Though some tiny speckles reportedly can occur on the faces of delicate meadow katydids, the green-faced ones often showed the reddish networks typical of dusky-faced.

Though some tiny speckles reportedly can occur on the faces of delicate meadow katydids, the green-faced ones often showed the reddish networks typical of dusky-faced.

This green-faced male has especially heavy reddish markings.

This green-faced male has especially heavy reddish markings.

Also, the ovipositors were too short. They seemed relatively straight, but clearly were less than half the length of the femur.

Also, the ovipositors were too short. They seemed relatively straight, but clearly were less than half the length of the femur.

The songs of some of the males had relatively short intervals of ticks between relatively short buzzes. The ticks all were single, however.

The principal paper published on this species group is by Edward S. Thomas and Richard Alexander (1962. Systematic and behavioral studies on the meadow grasshoppers of the Orchelimum concinnum group (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae). Occasional Papers of the Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan No. 626:1-31). After studying it closely I have to conclude that all these green-faced individuals are dusky-faced meadow katydids. Thomas and Alexander mention that dusky-faceds can have green faces occasionally (apparently more often around the southern end of Lake Michigan than in the species as a whole). The ovipositor length in females, and the lack of doubled ticks in the males’ songs, seem conclusively to rule out delicate meadow katydids in the individuals I have found. That’s a shame, because it may mean that the species has gone extinct in the region. But I’ll keep looking…

Oops! Etc. at Midewin

by Carl Strang

A couple years ago I came across a population of large band-winged grasshoppers with bright red hind wings, at St. Joseph County’s (Indiana) Bendix Woods. Focusing on the intense red color, I declared them to be northwestern red-winged grasshoppers. In the first half of August this year I ran into a second population in Illinois, at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

They had the same bright red color as at Bendix Woods.

They had the same bright red color as at Bendix Woods.

These are large grasshoppers, approaching Carolina grasshoppers in bulk.

These are large grasshoppers, approaching Carolina grasshoppers in bulk.

This time, though, I noticed a discrepancy in my ID that should have struck me the first time.

There is a honkin’ big bulge on the top of the pronotum.

There is a honkin’ big bulge on the top of the pronotum.

The northwestern red-winged grasshopper, which I now realize I have yet to meet, has a flat pronotum profile that furthermore is cleft by a significant fissure. These prove to be autumn yellow-winged grasshoppers, which in fact can have a range of colors in the hindwings. The following week, returning with fellow singing insect enthusiasts Lisa Rainsong and Wendy Partridge from Cleveland, and Wil Hershberger from West Virginia, we found many of these grasshoppers in fact have bright yellow wings. I need to get back there and get a photo of one for my singing insects guide.

While checking out the grasshoppers, we turned up two other species that were county records for my study.

The handsome grasshopper always is a delight. This one is a male.

The handsome grasshopper always is a delight. This one is a male.

Female handsome grasshoppers have green highlights in place of the male’s brown ones.

Female handsome grasshoppers have green highlights in place of the male’s brown ones.

Though still a nymph, this female is unambiguously a straight-lanced meadow katydid. The extra-long ovipositor and the diffuse-edged black band on the hind femur are giveaways.

Though still a nymph, this female is unambiguously a straight-lanced meadow katydid. The extra-long ovipositor and the diffuse-edged black band on the hind femur are giveaways.

Our main target in that visit was the dusky-faced meadow katydid, but that proves to be a much more complicated story deserving of its own blog post.

 

Early Season Survey: South

by Carl Strang

On Wednesday of last week I drove south to seek early season singing insects in some Illinois counties.

My first stop was Richard Young Forest Preserve in Kendall County.

My first stop was Richard Young Forest Preserve in Kendall County.

The forest was empty of northern wood crickets, but there were several groups of an early season grasshopper.

They proved to be greenlegged grasshoppers. Though not in either singing grasshopper subfamily, they were beautifully colored and worth a little effort to photograph and identify. This is a mature male; the crinkly little wings are full sized for the species.

They proved to be greenlegged grasshoppers. Though not in either singing grasshopper subfamily, they were beautifully colored and worth a little effort to photograph and identify. This is a mature male; the crinkly little wings are full sized for the species.

The preserve’s prairie gave up county records for spring field cricket and greenstriped grasshopper.

The preserve’s prairie gave up county records for spring field cricket and greenstriped grasshopper.

I went on through Will County, adding a couple site records at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, and also recording one of several puzzling ground crickets that sounded like striped ground crickets, and were in the appropriate habitat for the species, but were a month or more too early. I also checked the forest at Kankakee River State Park, but again failed to find any northern wood crickets.

Return to Midewin

by Carl Strang

Recently I spent an enjoyable afternoon at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, in Will County, Illinois. My main target was a swale in the northwestern portion of the property.

In one place the swale expands into a ponded area that in this wet year was around 50m wide and a few hundred long.

In one place the swale expands into a ponded area that in this wet year was around 50m wide and a few hundred long.

I added 3 county species records in and around the swale, but all are common in the region and so not the exciting rarities I’d hoped for.

This Forbes’s tree cricket was one of the three. It was perhaps the darkest individual I have seen in Illinois, and more typical of the Indiana coloration in my experience.

This Forbes’s tree cricket was one of the three. It was perhaps the darkest individual I have seen in Illinois, and more typical of the Indiana coloration in my experience.

As I returned to my car, wading through a nicely developing restored prairie, I spotted an unfamiliar grasshopper.

It held still while I took side and dorsal photographs. The color pattern and sculpturing pointed to the band-winged grasshopper subfamily.

It held still while I took side and dorsal photographs. The color pattern and sculpturing pointed to the band-winged grasshopper subfamily.

Note the white X marking on the pronotum (dorsal thorax). That rang a bell, and ultimately helped with the identification.

Note the white X marking on the pronotum (dorsal thorax). That rang a bell, and ultimately helped with the identification.

Unfortunately the hopper evaded me when I tried to catch it so as to check out the hind wing color. As I continued to walk out I saw a couple displaying grasshoppers with bright yellow hind wings, which I was unable to see up close. I made the assumption that they were the same as the photographed hopper, but this proved not to be the case. It turned out to have been a dusky grasshopper, Encoptolophus sordidus, which has an essentially colorless hind wing. It was the first of that species I have found, which always is exciting, but now I know there’s also a yellow-winged species I will have to go back and hunt down on a future visit.

While I was photographing the dusky grasshopper, a nearby movement caught my eye, and led me to a new experience. It was a ballooning spider, half an inch long. I had heard of this but never seen it, and did not expect that such a large individual could travel in that way. The spider sends out a strand of silk which grabs the wind and carries the spider through the air.

The spider had landed on a stalk, and paused long enough for me to get some photos. I haven’t had time yet to try for an ID.

The spider had landed on a stalk, and paused long enough for me to get some photos. I haven’t had time yet to try for an ID.

The spider didn’t wait long before it turned to face into the wind.

The spider didn’t wait long before it turned to face into the wind.

It began shooting out new strands of silk, obviously not satisfied that it had traveled far enough.

It began shooting out new strands of silk, obviously not satisfied that it had traveled far enough.

As I continued my walk to the car I noticed several strands of silk streaming from plant tops, and felt that I had learned something new about them.

I’ll close with a couple photos from other parts of Midewin.

This female short-winged green grasshopper was a county record.

This female short-winged green grasshopper was a county record.

A female fall field cricket posed nicely on a trail.

A female fall field cricket posed nicely on a trail.

Confused

by Carl Strang

This year there seem to be more confused ground crickets than I have noticed before in DuPage and neighboring counties. Furthermore, their habitat range seems broader. Here is a case in point. A couple weeks ago I was paying the year’s first visit to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Will County. Across one of the interior roads from a grove of trees was a meadow undergoing restoration to prairie, and in that meadow edge a confused ground cricket was singing.

This was the opposite of the species’ typical woodland setting.

This was the opposite of the species’ typical woodland setting.

I moved in closer to see exactly where the cricket was and found, between the bases of the plants, a little pocket of accumulated cottonwood leaves from last year.

This apparently was sufficient microhabitat to suit him.

This apparently was sufficient microhabitat to suit him.

There have been plenty of other instances of meadows with confused ground crickets in DuPage, Will and Kendall Counties. Almost always there are at least scattered trees nearby. The song is distinctive enough that I don’t think it’s a matter of me missing them in the past. Whether this is a 1-year increase, the result perhaps of favorable winter conditions, remains to be seen. This area is close to the northern range boundary for confused ground crickets, so another possibility is that this is evidence of yet another range expansion from the south.

Confused ground cricket

Confused ground cricket

Another sound-location combination that surprised me happened last week. I was driving home from an evening walk at Danada Forest Preserve when I heard what seemed to be a robust conehead, within 2 miles of my home on a road I frequently drive. I turned around, parked, and found it.

Robust conehead from a previous year

Robust conehead from a previous year

It was indeed a robust conehead, practically deafening at close range and with the typical short cone lacking black coloration. A second male sang nearby. These were far from the only DuPage County population I know about. This was, however, in a section of Butterfield Road that was rebuilt in the past few years, and there has been much landscaping in the median and along both edges. It seems almost certain that the eggs from which these coneheads hatched were carried in on nursery material. I’ll be interested in seeing if a new disjunct population builds in that spot.

 

The Nature of the Imagination: Background

by Carl Strang

On Tuesday evening I played the role of Aldo Leopold for the second and last time. A year ago I was asked by Wendy Tresouthick, the educator at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie (a Forest Service site) to present a talk, a first-person interpretive presentation in which I would portray Leopold, who most readers of this blog know as one of the most important figures in North American conservation history. I was to develop a new talk that Leopold might present today. I gave that talk at Midewin in March, and then again at Mayslake Forest Preserve on Tuesday.

Me as Aldo at Mayslake

This was a big challenge, but it didn’t take long for me to decide to take it on. I had come out of the Leopold tradition, my Ph.D. in wildlife ecology earned under the supervision of Charles M. Kirkpatrick, who had been a teaching assistant for Leopold at the University of Wisconsin while pursuing his own Ph.D. in zoology. I had done my field work in Alaska on a national wildlife refuge, again steeped in traditions established by Aldo Leopold. I soon discovered that I was the same age as Leopold when he died prematurely at age 61. When I gave the talk this week I was only 3 months older than Leopold at his death.

I re-read a couple of biographies, picked up a new one, and read a good portion of Leopold’s writing. As I went, I kept open to ideas for the talk, focusing on common themes in Aldo’s thinking and mine (of course, there is the possibility of circularity: to what degree was “my” thinking shaped by Aldo Leopold?). The talk that emerged is titled “The Nature of the Imagination.” It includes perhaps 5% Leopold quotes which I hope fit more or less in flow with my writing, and the bulk of the points are suggested directly by Leopold’s writing, so I think the presentation was fair enough to him. I plan to post the script here next week, so you’ll have a chance to decide for yourself. I introduced the talk with comments tied to the local site, paraphrased from the following (Mayslake version; the convention here and in the talk itself is to use quotation marks to indicate direct quotes from Leopold’s writings):

I want to thank the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County for inviting me to speak to you. I spent a little time in this county while doing my game survey of the north-central states 17 years ago in 1929, but I didn’t spend much time here, so I was glad of the opportunity to make some amends for that gap.

Coming to this site is a respite for me. It’s a relief to step away from the deer controversy in Wisconsin for a brief time.  Your Illinois whitetail deer still are recovering from their extirpation generally, though I have seen one herd near Rockford that is doing well, to the point where it needs to be controlled. In Wisconsin the story is different. Our forests all across northern Wisconsin, especially, are threatened by what is already an overabundance of deer. The real challenge of wildlife management is people management, in this case helping people to see there can be too many deer. It’s politics, and it’s conflict I would as soon do without. I’ve been called unpleasant names, and made a convenient target by those who haven’t been paying attention to certain realities – more on that later. So, it feels good to escape that for a day and visit you in Illinois.

Today I saw your preserve here at Mayslake, and saw the wonderful restoration work being done by Conrad, and Jacqui, and Bill, and the other volunteers who are rebuilding this place’s prairie, wetlands and woods. I learned that you use fire in your management plan. I once thought fire was the greatest enemy of grasslands and forests, but experience has shown the error of that kind of thinking, at least in some instances. “In [the Southwest, and I suspect here as well], the climax type is and always has been woodland. The thick grass and thin brush of pre-settlement days [in Arizona] represented a temporary type. The substitution of grazing for fire brought on a transition of thin grass and thick brush. This transition type [reverted] to the climax type – woodland.” In Madison our experiments at the arboretum we have created to represent primeval Wisconsin are supporting the value of fire in prairie health. Clearly you are getting good results with fire here, and I will report them back to our committee. Well, so much for preliminaries. Now I’ll get into my talk, which I have titled “The Nature of the Imagination.”

Midewin

by Carl Strang

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is a former military base that has been nearly all transferred to the U.S. Forest Service. A few remaining parcels are being cleared of old munitions and other hazards, and ultimately will be added to the Forest Service site. The historical connection between the Forest Service and the great conservationist, wildlife biologist and wilderness advocate Aldo Leopold has led to a number of interpretive efforts celebrating Leopold’s life and accomplishments. They worked with the Aldo Leopold Foundation to produce a documentary film, Green Fire, and Midewin educator Wendy Tresouthick asked me to give a first person interpretive presentation as Leopold, who died in 1948. At some point I will elaborate on that, but for today I want to share some images and impressions of the site. Thinking that if Leopold had come down to give a talk he would have wanted to see the site, I asked for a tour of Midewin’s restoration effort, and it was my good fortune to be taken around by Bill Glass, Midewin staff ecologist.

Bill Glass, standing in one of his favorite restored areas.

Midewin is huge, a 20,000 acre property, and has not been under Forest Service management for many years, so only about a tenth of it is being actively restored so far. Its history as a munitions storage site still is evident in the now empty bunkers, widely spaced so that if one went up it wouldn’t trigger others to explode.

Ammunition storage bunker.

The bunkers gradually are being removed, but they were solidly built and so their demolition is expensive and the process has to be gradual.

If you study this photo closely you will see a large number of bunkers dimpling the landscape. In the foreground is the top of a gravelly ridge, which provides some significant ecological relief to a largely flat and often wet outwash plain.

In the meantime, the bunkers provide nice, elevated vantage points for surveying the landscape.

A large area has been seeded, planted with plugs, and placed into various regimes of mowing and burning. There are prairies and wetlands covering an impressive range of types.

There is even a federally endangered plant on the site, the leafy prairie clover (Petalostemum foliosum, in the same genus as the familiar white and purple prairie clovers). The bunkers also provide elevated bedding sites for some of the local white-tailed deer.

A deer bed is in the foreground, at the lip of the bunker’s steep side.

I am looking forward to getting back there in the summer to do some singing insect survey work.

%d bloggers like this: